Rivers, Rapids and Mortality

It’s hard to accept that one day we will die, and that the bodies we have now are fragile. When we are young we see death as something far away, that will happen years from now when we are old and wrinkled in a nursing home. But sometimes it happens so fast we never see it coming. Sometimes we put ourselves in situations where our lives could be snatched from us, saved only by the grace of god or whatever supreme being you believe in. If you don’t believe then you may call it lucky. We survive life threatening experiences without even acknowleding the impact on our mental health, the trauma to our souls.

I had this experience last weekend and now I sit going over the possibilities in my mind.

I enjoy kayaking, I have been sea kayaking in BC, on lakes in farther up north. I am not an expert, my skills are beginner at best, but I love the independence of kayaking, and often fancied a fantasy life of buying a kayak, and venturing out on my own for solitude in nature. But rivers always scared me because that meant rapids.

This weekend after telling multiple people that I had agreed to go kayaking on the grand river, and that there were no rapids just fast moving currents. I was placated and any anxiety that I brought up was quickly calmed by those around me.

Well we did hit rapids, and my kayak tipped. I was then pulled through the current, hitting rocks as I went. I could hardly stand by the end of it, in no way aided by the rounded algae covered rocks. Helped by my rescuers the fellow kayakers on the trip I got to shore, and felt slightly my tears slightly vindicated by my swelling ankle.

I noted later that I had remembered one thing, if your kayak tips hold onto your paddle. It kept my head above water.

A week later I am still dealing with the consequences, thanking my lucky stars that my emergency room stay revealed no broken bones, just tissue damage. Took me about 5 days to be able to walk without a crutch, and many people to drive me around.

The most common reaction I get from those who don’t know me is that I must be very adventurous, and brave to have gone through rapids on a kayak and I assure you I was nothing of the sort, about 7 other people were kayaking with us, only two of us tipped. Don’t picture this waterfall with sharp jagged rocks. I want you to understand that people kayak this river daily. Do they put their lives at risk? Maybe, but we also put our lives at risk when we get in a car, or a plane. It isn’t about bravery, it is about taking risks.

I would not have taken the risk had I known what could happen.

This event paralelled in my mind with the discovery of a young man who went missing 7 years ago, whose mother I met through community social work events as she fought for acknowledgment of the trauma the families of Canada’s missing persons. They found his skull in the Canadian north by a lake, and they believe he injured himself, a skull fracture. He was an experienced kayaker, used to surviving Canada’s harsh northern landscapes.

I don’t compare the situations, only the risks and the saving grace. Why did my head stay above water, but there was no hand of god ending for him. Or maybe it was the paddle.

I won’t stop kayaking. I won’t stop taking risks. But I will think about how lucky I am, how blessed I am, and how divine it is that I am recovering, that I am alive.

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